Sony Ericsson launches DRM-free PlayNow store

Renamed PlayNow Arena coming later this year

Sony Ericsson has relaunched its mobile content store PlayNow, renaming it PlayNow Arena and promoting music without the DRM technology some stores use to prevent copying or sharing of songs.

The lack of copy protection is one the features that sets the store apart from the competition, according to Fredrik Månsson, category manager at Sony Ericsson in the Nordic and Baltic countries. It will initially be available in the Nordic countries, but will come to Western Europe later this year.

"We feel it's a natural feature, just like when you buy a CD you should be able to do what you want with your tracks," he said.

Apple's iTunes store offers DRM-free versions of many of the songs it sells around the world, while in the US Amazon.com sells songs without DRM through its Amazon MP3 store. Amazon MP3 is expected to launch in the UK later this year.

PlayNow Arena users can choose from about a million songs. That number will increase rapidly, soon reaching five million, according to Månsson.

Songs can be downloaded to mobile phones or PCs. They cost 9 Swedish kronor or €0.95 each if you pay using a credit card, and 12 Swedish kronor if you choose to pay using a premium-rate SMS.

Besides selling DRM-free music, PlayNow Arena links with TrackID, a feature which can identify a song by recording a snippet of it. Once a song has been identified, customers can buy it via PlayNow Arena, Månsson said.

For now PlayNow Arena is available on 25 mobile phones (all from Sony Ericsson) in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, but that will change over time. More European markets will be added during the rest of the year. There are also plans to launch the store outside Europe, but Sony Ericsson doesn't want to go into any details.

Sony Ericsson hopes PlayNow Arena will attract new customers, and make existing customers more loyal.

The store isn't just about music: users can also buy or download free ring tones, games, themes and backgrounds.

There are for example 250 games available per phone model. Sony Ericsson has deals with for example EA Games, Gameloft, THQ, Glu, Digital Chocolate and I-Play. Up to ten games will be available for free, and the rest will cost from 40 Swedish kronor.

But while DRM-free songs can be moved from phone to phone, the games can't.

Earlier this year Nokia caused uproar when it was found out that its gaming platform N-gage had the same limitation.

"Unfortunately that is the case, the main problem is licensing, but interoperability between different phones can also cause a problem," said Månsson.

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